Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

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Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

Traditionally, the Flyers hold their “break-up” day after the playoffs in the morning or mid-afternoon.

Not this year.

For the first time in decades -- literally -- the Flyers will "break up" Friday night as players, coach Craig Berube and general manager Paul Holmgren will offer their final take on the regular season and playoffs.

The Flyers' lack of quality depth, especially on defense, was badly exposed by the New York Rangers during the playoffs. Because of that, more pressure will be placed on the organization to develop a young, puck-moving defensemen who can contribute big minutes.

Alas, that has been the Flyers’ biggest downfall on defense since the days of Chris Therien.

As usual, the Flyers are facing a number of issues heading into what now figures to be a long summer:

1. What becomes of Holmgren?
There’s a reason why Ron Hextall came back to the organization and a reason why you no longer hear Hexy’s name mentioned anywhere else in the NHL when a GM spot opens up, including Washington, recently. The assumption is that Hextall will replace Holmgren, sooner rather than later.

Holmgren is entering the final year of his contract, but a number of NHL sources believe he will step aside and return to amateur scouting. As one source noted, scouting is what Holmgren has always liked best. He misses the relationship with that side of hockey.

If Holmgren elects to fulfill his final year, the obvious question is how much influence will he have in any decision if Hextall is going to succeed him?

2. Steve Downie
Hands down, this was the worst trade Holmgren made this season. The Flyers gave Colorado their best penalty-killing forward in Max Talbot for Downie, who struggled after a concussion in his first game, save for a brief spurt of decent play. Toward the end of the season, Downie basically fell apart with at least one more concussion and poor play.

Downie is unrestricted and won’t be re-signed.

3. Vinny Lecavalier
The Flyers’ marquee free-agent acquisition last summer quickly became the club’s biggest nightly lineup obstacle when it became apparent Lecavalier did not fit into Berube's top three center spots.

Lecavalier is too prominent a player to be reduced for a fourth-line center role and his $4.5 million salary is dead weight on the Flyers' salary cap because they are overpaying for a guy who averaged less than 11 minutes a game. The fact Lecavalier has four more years on his contract makes his signing even worse. It’s not fair to him or the club, and his salary is near impossible to move.

Lecavalier played poorly much of the second half and is believed to have been suffering from a back injury. Regardless, his situation needs to be addressed.

Bottom line: The Flyers made a splash for a player who did not fit without removing one of their younger centers and now they are paying a harsh price.

4. The defense
Andrew MacDonald made the defense more mobile and helped Luke Schenn in his development as a partner. Yet MacDonald, like so many others on the blue line, had a poor playoff series against the Rangers.

The Flyers need more speed on the back end. Kimmo Timonen is no longer a No. 1. If Timonen decides to come back, he has to accept a far lesser role and cap-friendly salary.

The Flyers have tried in vain forever to get that stud D-man that makes all the difference. They had it briefly in Chris Pronger, but post-concussion syndrome ended his career.

The club says it will not pursue Shea Weber one final time this summer. Matt Niskanen is an interesting free agent on the Penguins who would help the Flyers. Regardless, the club needs to quickly develop its young talent -- Shayne Gostisbehere should get a long look in camp -- before the window closes on a team for which some of the younger players are ready to win now.

The lack of quality depth on defense when a player gets injured remains appalling and needs to be resolved.

All of these issues fall at the feet of Holmgren, who will be under pressure from club chairman Ed Snider to find reasonable solutions if he remains general manager next season.

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Different players just keep stepping up for the Nashville Predators, and now their magical postseason run has an even bigger destination: the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Colton Sissons scored his third goal with 6:00 left, and the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 win in Game 6 on Monday night in the Western Conference finals.

"In the back of your head, you've been thinking about the Finals and then when the buzzer goes off, it's an amazing feeling," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said.

The Predators, who've never won even a division title in their 19-year history, came in with the fewest points of any team in these playoffs. They lost their top center, Ryan Johansen, for the playoffs after Game 4 because of emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher has missed two games with an upper-body injury.

"We went through a tremendous amount of adversity the last 72 hours losing two key guys in our lineup," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I mean, I said it before earlier in the playoffs that this team's got tremendous amount of composure. There is so much confidence in this dressing room what we can accomplish together if we play the right way."

They've swept the West's No. 1 seed in Chicago, downed St. Louis in six in the second round and now the Pacific Division champs. Peter Laviolette is the fourth coach to take three different teams to the Final, and the first since the playoffs split into conference play in 1994.

Laviolette joked that probably means he's been fired a lot.

"Our guys know the big picture," Laviolette said of his Predators. "They understand what it is that we're trying to do here. And when that time comes, we'll be ready."

The Predators will play either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

Anaheim lost in the conference finals for the second time in three years.

"Our effort was there and we were a desperate hockey club right from the opening faceoff, and we didn't quit until they scored the second empty-net goal," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Cam Fowler tied it 3-3 at 8:52 of the third for Anaheim as the Ducks tried to rally for the fifth time this season when trailing by multiple goals.

But Sissons, who scored on the third shot of the game, scored twice in a wild third period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead at 3:00 and then 4-3 three minutes later.

"I don't think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can't speak enough for just our whole group," Sissons said. "We've been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are."

Austin Watson scored on Nashville's first shot and had an empty-netter with 1:34 to go. Filip Forsberg also had an empty-net goal.

Rinne made 38 saves to improve to 12-4.

Ondrej Kase scored his second career goal -- both in this series -- giving Anaheim a chance to tie the NHL record with a fifth rally when trailing by multiple goals. Chris Wagner banked the puck off Rinne's head for a goal at 5:00 of the third to keep the Ducks close.

But this has been the best postseason ever for Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, a stretch ranking among the NHL's best. And the 6-foot-5 Finn used his big body to turn away shot after shot even with the Ducks trying to crash the net every opportunity.

Music City buzzed all day leading up to the puck drop waiting for one of the biggest sports parties this town has ever seen.

Superstar Garth Brooks spoiled the usual mystery of who would sing the national anthem with Twitter hints hours before the game. Sure enough, his wife Trisha Yearwood became the latest to handle the honors. Former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George waved the rally towel to crank up the fans.

That didn't even include the throngs packing the plaza outside the arena's front doors and the park across the street.

The Ducks, who came in 2-1 when facing elimination this postseason, peppered Rinne with pucks.

But they had goalie Jonathan Bernier making his first career playoff start after John Gibson was scratched with a hamstring injury. Caryle said Gibson, who went out after the first period of Game 5, was expected to play before telling them he was unavailable after skating Monday morning. Jhonas Enroth dressed as Bernier's backup.

Watson's third this postseason deflected off the left skate of Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour just 81 seconds into the game. Sissons skated on the top line in place of Johansen. He finished a game-high plus-5.

"This one is going to sting for a while," Ducks forward Corey Perry said.

Notes
Laviolette won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and coached Philadelphia to the Final in 2010. Laviolette joins Scotty Bowman (St. Louis, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit), Dick Irvin (Chicago, Toronto and Montreal) and Mike Keenan (Flyers, Chicago, Rangers) taking at least three teams to the Final. ... Sissons' hat trick was the first in a conference final clincher since Chicago's Patrick Kane in 2013 against Los Angeles. His hat trick is the second in Nashville playoff history.

NHL Notes: Desperate Senators hoping to avoid elimination

NHL Notes: Desperate Senators hoping to avoid elimination

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Guy Boucher has typically kept his team off the ice on off-days during the postseason. Not Monday.

The Ottawa coach opted for a half-hour practice ahead of Game 6 on Tuesday night to help his team "refresh" and "reload" after a 7-0 beating by Pittsburgh, one of the worst losses in team playoff history. Players thought the practice, as well as an encouraging chat beforehand, helped wipe the slate clean as they prepare for an elimination game. The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference final 3-2 and can return to the Stanley Cup Final with a win.

"We can't be sitting in our mud puddle," Boucher told The Canadian Press after practice. "We've got to get up and go."

Reloading against an opponent vying for back-to-back Stanley Cups means reverting back to strengths of the club. In Sunday's blowout loss, Boucher said, he thought his team tried to trade goals with the high-scoring Penguins -- an odd choice for a Senators team that thrives on shutting down opponents.

"If we stay away from our strengths there's no chance," Boucher said on Monday. "We're aware of that. We got slapped -- hard enough. The reality sets back in" (see full story).

NHL: Former All-Star Bill White dies at 77
CHICAGO -- Bill White, a former Chicago Blackhawks all-star defenseman and a member of Canada's 1972 Summit Series team, has died. He was 77.

The Blackhawks announced White's death Monday.

White, a Toronto native, started his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 1967 before being traded to Chicago during the 1969-70 season. He formed an imposing tandem on the Blackhawks' blue line with Pat Stapleton and helped the team reach the playoffs in all seven of his seasons in Chicago.

He appeared in six consecutive All-Star games between 1969 and 1974 and briefly served as head coach of the Blackhawks for the final 46 games of the 1976-77 season.

White finished his career with 50 goals, 215 assists and 495 penalty minutes in 604 NHL games with Los Angeles and Chicago, adding seven goals and 32 assists in 91 playoff appearances.

"The Chicago Blackhawks organization extends its thoughts and heartfelt condolences to Bill White's family as we mourn his loss," the team said. "He will be remembered as a leader, generous teammate and tough player to play against. His energetic style helped the Blackhawks see great success during his tenure with the team."

He joined Canada's squad for the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union after Game 1, finishing with a series-best plus-7 defensive rating while acting as a key part of Canada's penalty-killing unit.